For a college student far from Mom and Dad, it's nice to have some comforts of home in your dorm room: a teddy bear, a favorite blanket, the family dog.
Merida Lloyd is a sophomore at Eckerd College, the only college campus in Tampa Bay that allows students to live with dogs, cats and other furry friends. In addition to her human roommate, Lloyd lives with a 5-year-old cairn terrier named Sprighans.
"I missed her when I was here without her, and I really like having company," said Lloyd, 19, of Berryville, Va. So after winter break, she brought Sprighans to Eckerd.
"She really likes college," Lloyd said with a smile.
And why wouldn't she? Sprighans' coursework includes field trips to other dorms, outings at Fort De Soto's dog beach, sleepovers with Lloyd's friends in Tampa and socializing in the hallway with other dogs. For spring break, Lloyd took Sprighans to Texas. In fact, the international relations major takes her pet nearly everywhere, letting her frolic on a campus field rather than abiding by Eckerd's leash policy.
But there have been some adjustments. While Lloyd is in the cafeteria or in class, her friends or roommate dog-sit. She bathes the pooch — ahem, against Eckerd policy — in her residence hall's handicapped shower. And at night, Sprighans chases Shanaynay the hamster, who belongs to Lloyd's roommate, as the rodent roams the dorm room in a secure exercise ball.
Sprighans never has accidents, is laid back and hardly barks, Lloyd said. At only 15 pounds, she isn't even strong enough to knock things over when she gets excited. Lloyd has never gotten a complaint about her pet.
But other students have. Eckerd's pet council is a group of four students who register animals, organize mandatory vet check-ups, and enforce the college's pet policies. They're even planning a campus dog park.
The rules state that each student may have up to one dog (under 40 pounds), cat, ferret, rabbit or duck.
There are 35 such animals registered among the 1,300 or so students who live on campus. A $75 pet registration covers a check-up and obligatory flea treatments. Other animals — fish, snakes, rabbits, hamsters — don't require documentation.
Staff advisor Mike Robilotto said the most common gripes are dogs relieving themselves in the hallways and garbage cans that smell like cat pee.
"The most unusual pet that I've had to deal with is a 12-foot boa constrictor," Robilotto said. Eckerd limits snakes to 6 feet, so the boa had to go.
Cat pee? Snakes nearly as long as the rooms themselves? Why allow pets at all? Other schools, including the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa, permit only small fish in a tank of 10 gallons, max.
"We have students that come from all over the country, and it's more of a homey feeling," Robilotto said.
"Even if they don't bring their dog, it has more of a family feeling on campus when you see dogs walking around on campus."
College is hard enough without adding unnecessary dependants to the mix, but Lloyd said Sprighans is worth the trouble.
"She's a lot of fun to have around," Lloyd said. The only time she regrets having her dog is "maybe the five minutes in the morning when she wakes me up at 7 and wants to go outside."